In what is fast becoming a sure sign of summer, the East Hampton Town Board announced on Friday that it has submitted a formal objection to the Federal Aviation Administration and the United States Department of Transportation’s Consumer Protection Division regarding two aviation companies’ plans to offer commercial flight service to and from East Hampton Airport.
The town is “raising questions about the companies’ compliance with aviation laws and their authority to operate services as proposed,” according to a statement issued on Friday.
The town owns and operates the airport, but federal agencies have regulatory authority over aviation services. The town cannot bar the companies, BlackBird Air Inc. and Helicopter Flight Services, from operating at East Hampton Airport.
The town is asking the federal agencies to investigate BlackBird Air Inc., which offers “bespoke flying,” according to its website, as well as aircraft management. The company has announced that it would begin offering “prescheduled” service to and from East Hampton Airport, Friday’s statement said. Passengers, the statement continued, “should be aware of possible safety and/or legal risks associated with BlackBird’s business model,” referring to the website’s description of its services.
“According to BlackBird’s website, a passenger will choose where he or she wants to go, lease an aircraft he or she wants to ‘lease,’ and then will be offered an option of various BlackBird-approved pilots who they can hire to fly the aircraft,” the statement reads. “Once the passenger makes these selections and enters into the aircraft lease, additional passengers (unaffiliated with the primary passenger) can also select a seat on the aircraft for an additional fee.”
This presents a safety risk, the town argues, because BlackBird Air “does not necessarily comply with federal safety requirements for commercial air operators. This means that the aircraft (including maintenance, quality, and handling) and pilot (experience, licensure, rest time, and safety record) are not necessarily required to comply with the minimum standards applicable to commercial and charter flights,” but rather to standards applicable to noncommercial aircraft and pilots.
BlackBird Air’s user contracts state that passengers assume “operational control” of the flight, the town’s statement added. It says the F.A.A. calls that “a very significant legal burden” under which the person or entity assumes all liability incurred by the aircraft, pilot, or flight, “and is answerable in a court of law for any accident, safety incident, or regulatory violation that occurs on the flight.”
With regard to Helicopter Flight Services, the statement from Town Hall said that the operator recently petitioned the Department of Transportation for authority to conduct scheduled helicopter flights between New York City and East Hampton. “Whether you are taking a quick trip to the airport or heading to the Hamptons for the weekend, a helicopter charter offers a quick, easy, and comfortable alternative for travel in and out of the New York City area,” the company’s website says.
Under federal regulations, an air carrier must receive authority from the D.O.T. before it can offer certain types of scheduled air service. The town filed an objection to the company’s application on multiple grounds, including that its application did not comply with federal regulatory requirements.
The D.O.T. has taken the application under advisement, the statement says, noting that the company does not have authority to conduct scheduled services at this time.
Messages seeking comment from the two companies, sent via their websites, had not been returned as of yesterday afternoon.